Last Saturday March 19, in Brussels, three demonstrations were gathered in one huge wave of opposition to the plans of renewed militarism, increased deregulation, the dismantling of the social security system, increased job insecurity and other plans of the European Union. At the front of the demonstration marched the youth, followed by the heavy battalions of the working class and then the social movements.
Let’s start with the “tail of the demonstration”, the so-called “new social movements”. These are national social forums convened at the last European Social Forum in London, together with pacifist groups, NGOs, ATTAC and other left, reformist and anarchist organisations. They gathered some 10,000 people. The fact that they were able to mobilise 10,000 people compared to the 70,000 mobilised by the workers’ movement is very important. A few years ago there was a lot of talk that these “new social movements” and the anti-globalisation movement would surpass – some even dreamed that they would “replace” – the “old workers movement” in their ability to mobilise and that they would become the vehicle of mass radicalisation in the world. They got it wrong. These social forums and other such groups are important to the extent that they represent a symptom of social ferment that expresses itself in the student layers and radicalised middle class elements of society.
The first group to lead the way on March 19 was a youth demonstration for jobs, free education and equality, at the initiative of the youth wings of both the Socialist and Christian unions of Belgium. It attracted some one thousand young people. During recent years, the youth have been at the forefront of the struggle against imperialism, namely in the anti-globalisation movement and even more so in the anti-war movement. The Marxists explained that the radicalisation of youth should be firmly connected to the struggle of the working class on the basis of a common socialist program. We have always said that the youth are a sensitive barometer of developing contradictions in society. In many cases, their protests are a prelude to a massive radicalisation in the workers’ movement.
This we saw in the second demonstration. Tens of thousands of trade unionists from all over Europe marched through the streets of the European capital. Workers came from Spain, France, Poland, Croatia and Rumania. The level of participation from these countries varied strongly. The bulk of the workers that came from France where from the CGT, the former Communist union, which mobilised an impressive 34,000 workers! Although other smaller French unions were also present, CGT members could be seen all over the demonstration. Then came the Dutch unions, which had brought some 7,000 workers to Brussels. The very presence of unions from both countries expresses the degree of workers’ mobilisation there in the last period. The participation of unions from Eastern and Central Europe was rightly considered a very positive development by workers from other countries.
Other national unions had sent a more limited contingent of demonstrators. The fact is that trade unions affiliated to the European Trade Union Congress (ETUC) have tried to restrain massive mobilisations and introduced a quota of demonstrators! In Germany for example, the unions only provided transport for workers who live near the Belgian border. However, these bureaucratic tricks did not succeed in calming down the mood that day. In fact it was the opposite. The union bureaucracy was hoping to get some 50,000 demonstrators together with the social movements and the youth demonstration. In reality 80,000 people, overwhelmingly trade unionists, marched through the streets of Brussels. This is an unmistakable indication of the ferment in the European working class. Actually, the union leadership was pushed by the rank and file to go onto the offensive against capitalist Europe. Even when the leadership gives only the most half-hearted lead, even when they try to apply the brakes, the rank and file responded massively to the call. Many workers were very happy about this demonstration. The last ETUC demo in Brussels some three years ago looked like a nice and peaceful tourist walk around the capital of Europe. This time the mood was more combative and dominated by a general feeling of being part of the European working class on the move.
Contradictions were nevertheless visible. Officially, the ETUC, which had called for the unions to demonstrate, directed its criticisms against the Bolkestein directive (total liberalisation of services) and other reactionary plans of the EU. The European constitution was spared from attacks by the official leaders of most of the unions. The only open exception was the French CGT whose leadership has recently called for a ‘no’ vote on the question of the European constitution in the May 29 referendum in France. They represented the more radical wing of the union contingent at the demonstration. Several French trade unionists told us that they will do everything they can to make France an example for the European working class by voting ‘no’ on the new constitution. The latest polls in France show a lead for the ‘no’ vote with 52 percent as against 48 percent for ‘yes’. And from the latest declarations of President Chirac, it is clear that the vote of the French workers is frightening the French and the European bourgeoisie. In an attempt to divert attention, they will now ‘review’ the Bolkestein directive and make some minor changes. We should not be distracted by this move. The aim of the European capitalists remains the same: destroy the achievements of the working class (wages, working week, welfare state etc.). This is not just a result of the “neo-liberal ideology coming from the Anglo-Saxon world”, as the reformists and union bureaucracy want us to believe. It is a material necessity for the European capitalists in their competition with other imperialist blocs (U.S., Japan) for world domination. European multinationals have to increase their profits in order to be able to overtake other multinationals, and therefore they must attack the workers’ living standards and social achievements. As a consequence, under capitalism a real social Europe is materially impossible!
Despite the more advanced position of the CGT, even their correct rejection of the European constitution does not raise to the challenge of fighting for a Socialist Europe. All of these leaders dream of a social and peaceful Europe within the boundaries of capitalism. This is a pipe dream! Within the straitjacket of a capitalist EU there can never be a real social Europe in favour of the interests of the workers.
If the French working class is able to win the referendum on the question of the European constitution by a majority voting ‘no’, this will be tremendous victory. The workers in the whole of Europe would gain strength and courage from of this. It would plunge the capitalist EU into a deeper crisis. But in and of itself the ‘no’ vote does not offer an alternative. If you say A, you have to say B. The European workers have shown that they are ready to fight and demand a lead. But only a strong leadership with a clear objective and a well drawn-out plan can inspire the mass of the workers to go to the end. A half-hearted leadership will eventually lead to defeat. The unions and the Socialist and Communist parties should lead the fight against the capitalist European constitution as a step towards the taking of power by the European working class and the real unification of the continent under the banner of a Socialist Federation of Europe!